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The Oracle Riverside

The Oracle Riverside, part of The Oracle Retail and Leisure Complex in Reading (UK), is a public realm led regeneration project, occupying a key riverside location in the heart of Reading. The project was an opportunity to re-energise the riverside, turning it into a destination and re-imagining the visitor experience fit for a rapidly changing retail world. With over 20 restaurants and cafés overlooking the Kennet and Avon Canal, The Oracle Riverside has the highest concentration of restaurants anywhere in the town of Reading. The re-design needed to create not only an amazing riverside space, but a space that adds value through new retail and pop-up opportunities, enhancing the economic viability of the space.

Historically, the town has turned its back on the river, with concrete and brick creating a barrier between people and the riverside. Before the refurbishment, there was virtually no step-free access to the riverside area, making the river inaccessible and cut off from the rest of the development. The new design has created a sequence of spaces that maximises the riverside location, including a new Pavilion and reconfiguration of the riverside’s terrace steps to create a larger and adaptable public space. This new space is ideal for performances, kiosks and pop-ups, hosting a variety of activities and events and attracting a range of visitors to the new public space, incorporating the river as a feature and asset of the town.

Alongside three retained willow trees further ‘greenness’ was introduced into the space.  A green roof on the pavilion, a large green wall and an abundance of planters along the length of the riverside collectively create a more natural, relaxed and pleasant environment to spend time in. One of the key challenges of the project was the fact that much of the site is located within the floodplain. Any alterations to The Riverside would have to ensure the impact on the flood area was neutral or positive and the selection of hardwearing but aesthetically pleasing material was critical to its long-term success. Through decluttering the space and removing unnecessary structures, the proposed design simplified the riversides layout. This resulted in a more legible public space with improved access to the water’s edge, incorporating a new pavilion and exhibition space, on stilts, within the flood plain. To create the seating terraces, FSC Cumaru timber was selected because of its aesthetic and durable qualities. It was used to create the terraces from retail level to the lower waterside level, concealing the pavilion and exhibition space stilts. To accommodate flood water the terraces also incorporated strategically located gaps in-between the timbers that allow water to flow freely through and under the structures when the river is in flood. Elsewhere granite blocks and setts are used to clad the concrete substructures which carefully interface with the timber terraces

The Riverside is now a destination space for Reading that is often hosting some sort of pop up activity. The changes to the space have improved circulation, created an attractive space to dwell in and improved the connection between people and water.

Entrant office name: Barton Willmore Landscape, Reading
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Design & Lead Consultant
Website: http://bartonwillmore.co.uk/Services/Landscape-Design
Other design firms involved in the design of the garden (if any):
Project location (State or Country): UK, Berkshire, Reading Town Centre
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2017

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